Tag Archives: SEK

America Has A Little Less Splendor Today

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up. Hudson:

Acclaimed comic-book author Harvey Pekar died Monday at the age of 70. He’s best known for his autobiographical comic series American Splendor, which was made into a 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti. In 1999, James Hynes described him as “thoughtful, articulate and, above all, angry, a rare and precious attribute in his age of yappie nihilism.”

Mel Valentin at Cinematical:

In sad, but not entirely unexpected news, Harvey Pekar, best known for his long-running American Splendor underground/indie comic book series, passed away early this morning at his home in Ohio. Pekar had been suffering from multiple illnesses, including prostrate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, and depression. He was 70.

Pekar began American Splendor in 1976 to document non-superheroic, everyday life, including his own, in his native hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, often with a caustic, acerbic, self-deprecatory wit. Pekar’s work attracted some of the most-respected and well-known names in underground and mainstream comics, including Robert Crumb, Alison Bechdel, Chester Brown, Greg Budgett, David Collier, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, Eddie Campbell, Gilbert Hernandez, and Ty Templeton. American Splendor’s last issue appeared in 2008.

Outside of underground comics, Pekar was best known for a recurring stint on the David Letterman show in the late 1980s. NBC eventually banned Pekar from appearing on the show due to a combination of Pekar’s open, combative style and repeated criticisms of NBC’s parent company, General Electric.


Pekar’s third wife is writer Joyce Brabner, with whom he collaborated on ‘Our Cancer Year,’ a graphic novel autobiography of his struggle with lymphoma. He lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with Brabner and their foster daughter, Danielle.

Pekar’s ‘American Splendor’ comics, which he began publishing in 1976, chronicle his grousing about work, money and the monotony of life. A wide range of illustrators contributed to its pages, most famously R. Crumb, who first met Pekar in Cleveland in the 1960s and encouraged him to turn the stories he gathered on his travels through the city into comics.

The books gained a cult following, ultimately helping change the way comic books were perceived. They were adapted into the 2003 film ‘American Splendor,’ starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

Kevin Fallon at The Atlantic

Kate Ward at Entertainment Weekly:

Following the sad passing of famed writer Harvey Pekar, friends have begun issuing statements mourning the beloved author of the American Splendor series, who passed away at age 70.

Paul Giamatti, who played Pekar in 2003′s American Splendor: “Harvey was one of the most compassionate and empathetic human beings I’ve ever met. He had a huge brain and an even bigger soul. And he was hilarious. He was a great artist, a true American poet, and there is no one to replace him.”

Jonathan Vankin, an editor at Vertigo who oversaw American Splendor and The Quitter: “I am terribly sad today. Working with Harvey Pekar was one of my first experiences at Vertigo and it’s still one of my best, not only in comics but in my life. Underneath the well-known gruff exterior, Harvey was a deeply compassionate person and of course, a brilliant mind. He created, almost single-handedly, an entirely new kind of comics and his commitment to what he did was absolute and uncompromising. We’ve all suffered a huge loss today, in comics of course, but also in American culture.”

Robert Pulcini, co-director of American Splendor: “Harvey Pekar was one of the few originals I’ve met in my life. He deserves to be remembered as the patron saint of Cleveland.”

Shari Springer Berman, co-director of American Splendor: “I am so sad. There will never be another Harvey Pekar. I hope he is in a place where there is a great jazz soundtrack, lots of good books, and he can make plenty of money.”

SEK at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Harvey Pekar wasn’t included on the list of people I’m officially allowed to mourn, but that doesn’t mean I won’t mourn his passing anyway. I first came to American Splendor too early—when I started reading Love and Rockets and Cerebus in 1993—and then too late—after the release of the film American Splendor in 2003—so while I understood it, I never truly “got” his appeal. I appreciated his ear for language, but as a teenager thought what it captured unworthy of print, and as a literary scholar had encountered many similarly talented ears and was, therefore, less impressed by it than I should have been. But when I read the news of his passing earlier today, I realized something:

I knew Harvey Pekar.

I didn’t know him know him, but like all of his readers, I knew him as well as you know me. Pekar was a proto-blogger, if you will, because he turned his life into something worthy of public consumption. Our Cancer Year is a grueling read not because all cancer entails struggle, but because the patient stricken with it is someone whose failed dreams, stunted career, and intimate thoughts are familiar to us. We may not have known Harvey Pekar, but we knew “Harvey Pekar,” and unlike artists for whom the distance between characters and self is meticulously kept, in this case it really is just a matter of quotation marks.

Rest in peace, Harvey. Lord knows you deserve some.

Brian Doherty at Reason:

He was a great and original jazz critic, an entertaining movie inspiration and “star,” the smartest and sharpest of David Letterman’s 1980s gang of real-world curiosities, and the prime original creative force and inspiration for one of the most important (though its dominance is sometimes overstated) trends in modern literary comics, the quotidian autobiography.

He was Harvey Pekar, and he died very early this morning at his Cleveland home.

Pekar was one of the few writers of whom I can say I can and do read everything he writes with great pleasure, whether it’s about the music of Sonny Stitt, the writings of I.J. Singer, or his trip to the market to buy bread.

I reviewed Pekar’s graphic biography of libertarian troublemaker Michael Malice at Reason Online.

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Filed under Art

Cartoon Wars: Episode V – The Academia Strikes Back

Darleen Click at Protein Wisdom:

Oh I know I’m going to get called names on this. But I’m not going to play that game anymore. Like the sign at one of the TEA parties that said “it doesn’t matter what this sign says, you going to call it racist anyway.” When even the lawsuits now being brought by 30 plus state AG’s is considered racist, it is time to stop playing that game.

I’m flipping outraged even more so by Obama’s “victory lap” where he pretends this crap-sandwich is what “The American People were begging for”. Not one bit of graciousness in his “victory” but that nose up arrogance as his Social Democrats were literally breaking out the champagne.

I expect this will also flush out the usual Stockholm-syndrome “conservatives” who wring their hands and say “oh you can’t say that! People will take offense!”

Heck, I want to shake them up. This is supposed to be a post-racial era? Then deal with the fact that the President of the United States is the head of a gang that just raped our American principles.

I made it a cartoon and not a photoshop and the “woman” is green. Deal, people.

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom:

I’m getting a bit fed up with the insistence by statists that because they populate the arts and the academy, they have some kind of death grip on “hip.” For instance, here’s Nishi, whose only hope of ever really touching cool would be to pay somebody to fuck her once with an ice dong:

Doughy Pantsload aka Jonah Goldberg is the antithesis of cool …. .he doesnt even get that there is NO CULTURE WAR …. there is only an evolution of culture event like glaciation or the extinction event at the K-T boundary. And the “classic liberals” are trying to build a snowfence out of pitchforks and torches to hold off a cultural glacier of liberal memes.
Where are the conservative professors, filmmakers, comics, scientists, actors, artists?
they don’t exist.

So. Let me give this “argument” a go.

Where are the conservative professors, filmmakers, comics, scientists, actors, artists? They’ve been out learning to shoot, honey.

But you’re right: Those punk rock “liberal memes” we buttoned-up dorks are trying desperately to hold back are the epitome of hepness and popularity — the “glaciating” endpoint of cultural evolution as it pertains to maintaining a permanent hold on (the oxymoronic notion of) mainstream hipster culture. I mean, what teen in his rebellious stage isn’t going to embrace the edgy cries of, “all our shower heads are uniform in pressure!”, or “hell no, we won’t go (to restaurants that cook with table salt)!”. Why, it’s just like following the Dead around the country!

Face it, Nishi. The statist scolds — offering soulless progressivism repackaged in the language of freedom — will only hold power so long as they can maintain the euphemisms.

SEK at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

What do you do in the wake of a crushing political defeat?

If you’re Jeff Goldstein, you declare yourself to be way cooler than everyone else; if you’re Darleen Click, you draw a cartoon in which the President rapes a woman, then tells her that he and friends will be back to rape her again later. In the clinical sense, Click is the more interesting case because she thinks that the only problem with her cartoon is that it’s racist. I repeat: she drew a cartoon in which the punch line is a gang rape and the only potential problem with it she can see is that it might be racist. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s plenty racist—plays into tropes as old as slavery and everything—but the punch line is that the President and his associates are going to gang-rape the Statue of Liberty with, I kid you not, immigration reform.

In service of the cheapest of laughs, Click asserts that the statue that symbolizes America’s commitment to the tired, poor, huddled masses of the world is about to be raped because of the President’s commitment to those selfsame masses-yearning-to-be-free. Talk about your industrial grade ideological incoherence—and I would, except for the fact that Goldstein, never one to be upstaged on his own blog, told a woman that the only way she would ever be cool was if someone raped her with an icicle. That’s not true, though. Goldstein never said that. What he said, and I quote, was:

For instance, here’s Nishi, whose only hope of ever really touching cool would be to pay somebody to fuck her once with an ice dong.

Such are the depths to which Goldstein sinks to maintain the illusion that he’s cool, which is sad, you know, because he’s a middle-aged man worried about whether people think he’s cool. Then, in yet another example of just how over me he is, he declares me to be the exemplar of uncool.  Far be it for me, a 32-year-old blogger who sports a backwards Mets cap and is currently writing a scholarly book about comics, to complain when someone says I’m not cool, because honestly, I’m not cool. I grew up, got a job, and am working for the Man; however, forty-something bloggers who alternate between whining about how poorly jobs they don’t have pay and writing 10,000-word-long semiotic screeds about Alinksy and catch-wrestling? Not cool. Doesn’t matter how many people whose favorite film is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington say otherwise, because them? Also not cool.

James Wolcott at Vanity Fair:

In a desperate, ghoulish plea for attention (now that even right wing sites are no longer linking to it), Protein Wisdom has published an editorial cartoon portraying President Obama as a gloating, unrepentant rapist with Lady Liberty his weeping victim, her torch lying broken at the foot of the bed. Rapist Obama tells Lady Liberty to stop whining, get herself cleaned up, and promises he’ll be back later with “friends,” i.e., a gang-rape.

For those slower cowpokes among Protein Wisdom’s armchair outlaws, the cartoon is helpfully titled “Rape of Liberty,” to ensure they won’t miss the message over the sound of their own chewing.

The perpetrator of this tawdry little exercise, a flagrant offender named Darleen Click, doesn’t care if you think this cartoon is racist because conservatives get called racist no matter what we do and we’re sick of it and besides “I made it a cartoon and not a photoshop and the “woman” is green. Deal, people.”

I find the logic of that statement somewhat elusive, though I suppose we should be grateful that it’s a symbolic green statue being shown forcibly violated in that Psycho room and not, oh, the Virgin Mary, virgin no more. With Easter coming up, perhaps Protein Wisdom will favor us with Lady Liberty hanging from the cross as Obama drives in the last nail–I wouldn’t put anything past those “desperadoes.”

Goldstein responds to SEK and Wolcott:

Two things. First, and for the record, I never declared myself to be “way cooler than everyone else.” I declared myself way cooler than Nishi — which is like declaring myself more handsome than a cadaver, or more Jewish than a Kennedy.

I will, however, happily update my declaration to include Scott Eric Kaufman, who couldn’t find cool were he to stumble pantless into a caribou orgy.

Second, only someone who has sex solely with his own beard could see in Darleen’s comic a “gang rape.” Me, I see a political metaphor. As for those subtextual slave tropes that so horrify Kaufman, all’s I can say is it’s a good thing Darleen didn’t draw a tree outside the window, or else we’d be treated to Scott’s erudite observations about monkeys.

Of course, I’m not “writing a scholarly book about comics.” Which, if Kaufman’s interpretive performance tells us anything, must require that one first become a cartoon. So take my criticisms with a grain of salt.

Meantime, two words, Scott: ice. dong.

update: I see that a freshly-moistened James Wolcott once again defied gravity’s odds and managed to jowel his way from divan to keyboard, where with fat pink powdered fingers he pecked out this description of Darleen’s comic: “a desperate, ghoulish plea for attention (now that even right wing sites are no longer linking to [protein wisdom])”. I can’t say that I agree with Mr Wolcott’s rather overwrought assessment of Darleen’s work, but on the second point I can’t offer much of an argument.

Frankly, I’m just glad someone besides me noticed.

Jeff Goldstein again:

This will be an especially personal post, but as it brings into sharp relief many of the ideas I’ve spent years writing about here, I figured it’s worth sharing.

As many of you know, a few evenings ago I received the following email from one of my old creative writing professors:


Would you mind taking my name off your “about” page on Proteinwisdom? I’ve always liked you and your fiction, and your and [name redacted] impetus to make that conference happen, at that moment in time, did a great deal to speed this program along. I was also simply grateful to have you in the program when you came along, because you were–and are–a very smart and intellectual fiction writer, a rare commodity still, to this day. But I am more and more alarmed by the writings in this website of yours, and I do not want to be associated with it.

Brian Kiteley

Here’s the context of that mention on my “about” page: “Some of the writers Jeff studied under are Rikki Ducornet, Beth Nugent, Brian Kiteley, and Brian Evenson.

My reply was terse:

Are you asking that I pretend I never studied under you?

And what, precisely, are you so “alarmed” by?

Me, I’m increasingly alarmed by the number of academics — in particular, those who teach writing — who find speech alarming. But then I guess I’m old fashioned that way.

Thanks, Brian.

As I first noted after receiving the email and thinking on it a bit:

This is, in effect, a repudiation of everything I’ve done here. And yes, it hurt me very much. I checked over my recent entries, and I saw a discussion on the expansion of the commerce clause by Scalia; a discussion of “process” and how it dovetails with the content of thought; a bit on language; a repudiation of the idea of cultural evolution as a move toward some progressive singularity; a discussion of the potential longterm political ramifications — particularly, the growth of a client class — that could arise in the wake of a law that nationalizes healthcare; a short fiction; a Leif Garrett post; and a couple of Corey Haim dispatches from the after life.

No doubt people like SEK will see such a note as befitting a person so foul as me. They will rejoice that others in academia see me as they do. Me, I see the email as a rebuke to everything I try to stand for — especially, that last ditch effort to engage in debate as one of a number of would-be public intellectuals.

Instead, what I write is evidently a cause for “alarm”; it represents some sort of worrisome disease of the mind and the soul that good righteous academic folk must necessarily distance themselves from — to the point that even someone who praises me for my intellect fears the taint of my name and words.

Presumably, academics like Mr Kiteley will continue to associate themselves with intellectualism. “Pragmatic” conservatives will continue to push GOP talking points, and secure their places as influential voices on the right. For my part, I am a pariah on both sides of the divide.

Since receiving that email, I’ve been mulling all this over, and today I decided to contact Brian Kiteley directly; after all, I’ve been to his house, we’ve had drinks together, and we’d always gotten along just fine — and though I hadn’t spoken to him in years, I figured the best way to discuss this would be as close to face-to-face as I could manage.

So I dialed him up and he answered. When I told him who was calling, he let out a forced “laugh” — I presume to show his bemused exasperation with my gall at having contacted him — and, when pressed, he called me a “jerk”.

His position seems to be that allowing Darleen’s comic to stand — the President raping lady liberty “is not a political cartoon and you know it,” he told me — was sick and irresponsible, the abetting of a civil evil that is far worse than, say, drawing Bush as Hitler, or insinuating an American President manufactured a war and sent men and woman off to die so he could exand his portfolio.

When I countered that I thought we were taught to believe that the best way to answer speech is with more speech (I also noted that I found the specific question of how exactly the cartoon was “racist” an interesting one, and that I found the rather heated discussion on that point intellectually useful), he reacted as if I couldn’t possibly believe such idealistic tripe. Finally, he cut me off, told me that I have his phone number and that he doesn’t have mine, and that we should keep it that way (whatever that means). And he hung up.

In between all this , his argument seemed to be that joking about owning guns and the President raping liberty is playing into the hands of the “extreme right wing”-types, many of whom presumably still live in the hills and marshes of “the deep south” and want to do the President real physical harm. When I pointed out that those same types likely wouldn’t frequent a “Goldstein”-run blog, he agreed, at least momentarily, before returning to the theme of the danger my ideas represent: this idea of a (soft) “civil war” revolted him, even though it was clear that I was speaking of a kind of culture war in which the power of the federal government is challenged by states based on concentrations of voters — a kind of libertarian idea for how those who believe in smaller government and the Constitutional directives for states rights over and beyond the ever-growing reach of federal government bureaucracies can bring an effective challenge. In fact, I pointed out that we are seeing that dynamic at work in the lawsuits states are threatening over Obamacare — precisely the reason I reintroduced that original 2005 post as (perhaps) prescient.

Let me now say this: when Brian first wrote me, I was hurt. Now, I’m just angry. And indignant. This idea — coming from a fiction writer, a creative writing program director, and a university professor who instructs on creative endeavors — that a political cartoon or comic he found distasteful should have been removed by me as potentially incendiary and harmful, flies in the face of everything we have ever been taught about free expression, art, political speech, and the exchange of ideas (often heated) in the public square. It is the reverse of tolerance masquerading as a claim to the moral high ground.

It is an Orwellian world in which we live when fucking novelists want to distance themselves from those who criticize the government. Were Kiteley’s disgust over the comic purely aesthetic, I could at least entertain his point. But that isn’t the case: instead, Kiteley objects to the content, and sees Darleen’s cartoon as the online equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded movie theater.

When I noted that people were free to comment on the site and voice their opposition, Kiteley told me of my propensity for stifling opposition — which would come as a surprise to the commenters who visited to call Darleen a racist, etc. Or to the number of people on the left — from Nishi, to SEK, to Jeralyn Merritt — I’ve invited to guest post here over the years.

This is our modern academy, distilled to this singular objective correlative. And make no mistake: the university where Kiteley teaches is NOT on the far left, by university standards.

SEK at Lawyers Guns and Money:

Goldstein’s old professor listed “a propensity for stifling opposition” as one of the reasons he wanted to distance himself from the site, but as Goldstein notes, that’s nonsense. Consider, for example, the condensed verion of the the rational arguments with which he and his commenters engaged my argument the other day:

Scott is a cartoon, a hack; a clearly clueless and remarkably dishonest bracketing brackety bracketer who stands on the sidelines cheering while Lady Liberty takes it in the cornhole. This pretentious character is a lying cock, a fucking pussy, and a fucking retarded scrotumless fuck wearing a hot-pink thong, or maybe white lace boyshorts, and he would not stop a rape in progress, but would instead go home and be so turned-on he’d write a paper about it. Effete attention whores like Scott Eric Robespierre are routinely beat up by bread and, like all leftist twatwaffles lusting for power, he is a haughty apparatchik with a lisp and a pedo beard who couldn’t find cool were he to stumble pantless into a caribou orgy. He roots for the Mets and is truly a prick.

Why wouldn’t an English professor want their name associated with the above? It’s a dazzling display of Oulipian restraint. After all, anyone can write a novel without the letter “e,” but writing in a way that attracts people who argue ad hominem and only ad hominemThat requires true literary talent.


JEFF GOLDSTEIN: “It is an Orwellian world in which we live when fucking novelists want to distance themselves from those who criticize the government.”

James Joyner:

Now, I happen to find Click’s cartoon both amateurish and distasteful. Further, I disagree with its hamhanded message, both literally and philosophically.  (That is, while I voted against Obama and oppose his health care plan, the process by which he got it passed into law was legitimate. Further, I tend to be Burkean when it comes to matters of representative government, so the election of November 2008 is indeed all the mandate Obama needs until the election of November 2010.)

That said, I’m in full agreement with Jeff about university professors — much less professors of English — having this reaction to the expression of ideas.   Neither he nor Darleen Click are political leaders, who have some tangential responsibility to think about the impact of their words on their followers.  Rather, they’re public intellectuals applying their creative talents to expressing their frustrations as best they can.

It’s debatable whether blogs constitute “the modern academy.”  But it’s indisputable that it’s possible to live the “life of the mind” via blogging and I would argue that, in the main, Jeff is an outstanding case study.

Beyond that, professors rightly go to great lengths to protect academic freedom.  As outlined over the years by the American Association of University Professionals, it “comprises three elements: freedom of inquiry and research; freedom of teaching within the university or college; and freedom of extramural utterance and action.” So it’s bizarre, indeed, for an English professor to argue so passionately for the suppression of speech.

It would, frankly, never occur to me to contact a former student and, in a huff over some cartoon, demand that they remove my name from their biography page.  If I were, however, of a mind to criticize, I would engage the specific idea or utterance rather than try to hide our former relationship.  There is, after all, plenty of history of teachers engaging former students (and vice versa) in rigorous intellectual debate.  Indeed, it’s in the finest tradition of the academy.  Calls for removing offensive speech?  Not so much.


Filed under Art, Education, The Constitution

I’m Beginning To See The Light


A woman has written the same letter defending Obama to dozens of publications across the country, getting them published in at least 42 newspapers in 18 states, as well as Politico.com, the Washington Times, and USA Today. And the woman, Ellie Light, has claimed residence in many of these states.

Think there might be some phony Astroturfing there?

At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sabrina Eaton makes a nice catch:

Ellie Light sure gets around.

In recent weeks, Light has published virtually identical “Letters to the Editor” in support of President Barack Obama in more than a dozen newspapers.Every letter claimed a different residence for Light that happened to be in the newspaper’s circulation area.

“It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything,” said a letter from alleged Philadelphian Ellie Light, that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News.

A letter from Light in the Jan. 20 edition of the San Francisco Examiner concluded with an identical sentence, but with an address for Light all the way across the country in Daly City, California.

Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.

Shannon Bell:

The “concerned citizen” named Ellie Light goes on to claim that we the American people were victims of extortion; extortion by banks who threw our economy into freefall. I’ll agree with the extortion part, only I’ll disagree with the guilty party. We are victims of extortion, only the extortion that takes place on a daily basis is by those elected to protect and defend the constitution and conduct the people’s business on our behalf. Nice try Ellie Light.

She closes by bemoaning the fact that Obama is being attacked for promising that our problems would be solved instantly. Actually the majority of attacks aimed at Obama are for the mess he’s making, not the mess he failed to clean up. Ellie Light, mysterious letter writing Obama supporter seems to forget that Bush was attacked for not waving his proverbial magic wand and fixing problems. What’s good for the goose, you know what I mean? I think Ellie Light is Michelle Obama, David Axelrod or maybe even Obama himself. Maybe he penned the letter on his way back from Massachusetts.

Frank Ross at Big Journalism:

The blogosphere is abuzz with speculation tonight about the real identity of the strange and wonderfully timely “Ellie Light,” President Obama’s No. 1 fan and apparently the owner of more residences than Donald Trump, John McCain and John Kerry combined.  Not to mention an indefatigable letter writer.

With Obama slumping in the polls, and reduced to more campaign-style appearances in front of friendly audiences in lieu of, you know, actually governing, the ethereal Ms. Light has taken pen in hand on multiple occasions to support her (?) fading Hope

Dan Riehl

Candance Moore at Newsbusters:

Almost every paper uses some kind of vetting process precisely to stop such spamming. It boggles the mind that editors in dozens of newsrooms did nothing until she got this far.

The day after Eaton’s story broke, Patterico took to the chase and compiled a more complete list of Light’s appearances. No thanks to the mainstream media, bloggers worked their search engines to expose the size of Light’s scam.

All told, 42 newspapers had fallen for Light, and on the very day that the Cleveland paper broke the story, USA Today had just printed their own version. It is absurd that three weeks passed with no one catching on.

Within the city of Philadelphia, for example, Light was published by the two major newspapers – the Inquirer and the Daily News – within the same week, and somehow nobody noticed her duet performance. Three papers within the state of Connecticut, two in Maryland, and three in Wisconsin also fell for the trick.

Either competing papers within the same city don’t bother reading each other’s content, or someone was remarkably lazy not to connect the dots. Aside from the proximity of such news outlets, Light got so much exposure that any editor should have been aware.

It should warm your heart to know that mainstream newspaper editors are so out-of-touch, something can appear in the blogosphere and all of their competitors for three weeks without them even noticing.

Some 48 hours after breaking the story, the Cleveland Plain Dealer stands alone as the only mainstream newspaper pursuing it. While the scandal grows in the blogosphere, the outlets that printed her letters have left them online, untouched, intact, and with no corrections offered to their readers.

Ellie Light remains a mystery, and with no interest from the media to confront their own negligence, very little pressure is being applied to find out who she is. After three weeks of blissful ignorance, the editors who fell for Ellie Light are content with the truth remaining untold.

I don’t find the fact that some inveterate letter-writer who aches to see her name in print is doing what inveterate letter-writers who ache to see their names in print have done for the better part of a century all that interesting … or I wouldn’t, were it not for the person the only Google Book Search return for the name “Ellie Light” suggests she might have married.*

*The first person who says this is a case of me being a hammer and everything looking like a nail is probably right.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin

Daniel Foster at National Review

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #2: Ben Smith at Politico

More Patterico

UPDATE #3: John Cook at Gawker

UPDATE #4: More Patterico



Filed under Political Figures

I Have A Blue House With A Blue Window

Carl Franzen at Atlantic Wire with the round-up:

Confession time: when the Atlantic Wire previously covered the furor around the reported $500 million budget for James Cameron’s new film Avatar, bad buzz around the awkward-looking previews prompted us to ask “Will ‘Avatar’ Be a Megaflop?” But now as the movie opens nationwide, it appears the time has come for us to eat our words: The initial critical response to ‘Avatar,’ in case you haven’t heard, has been resoundingly positive. Early ticket sales are staggering (on track to set the Fandango record) and some are expecting the movie to have a $100 million opening weekend, which would put it near the Top 10 of all time (though still well short of the Dark Knight’s $158 million total). Still, as others have pointed out, the mercurial media’s pendulum has swung already, and could swing yet again. For now though, it appears that those who questioned Cameron’s ability to deliver are about to be decisively silenced.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Is The Matrix a great movie? Is The Terminator? Is RoboCop? All of these seemed like popcorn releases, crowd-pleasing high-tech spectacles that looked cool as hell and were just smart enough to spark dorm-room philosophical speculation. But with 10 or 20 years of distance, they look smarter. The dystopic visions of interchangeable time-space continuums and replaceable cyborg bodies now seem like diagnoses of the time in which they were made, a moment when technology was just starting to invade our bodies, in the form of interactive video games and personal computers. But cyborgs and time travel are still so analog, so ’90s. The Matrix, from 1999, came closest to diagnosing the present. It’s an Internet-age movie, but it only has dialup access.

Avatar could be thought of as the first mega-blockbuster that’s fully broadband. Its hero is literally an avatar, the virtual representation of a live human being who manipulates its adventures remotely, like the player of a video game. (The original Sanskrit meaning of “avatar”—the bodily form taken by a deity descending to earth—is also suggested in this movie’s quasi-religious cosmology.) Far from the millennial bleakness of The Matrix, Avatar is an end-of-the-world fantasy that’s sanguine about the prospects for virtual reality. Cameron cheerfully concedes that the human race may be bound for extinction—he sets his story in 2154, when earth’s resources will already have been depleted, turning our species into rapacious galactic colonialists. But his confidence in technology is boundless. Memo to Al Gore: If we can just bio-engineer large blue representations of ourselves and hook them up to our brains via isolation pods, climate change is not going to be a problem.

Neil Miller at Film School Rejects:

It is a simple story, yes. But also one that works perfectly for what Cameron is trying to do with Avatar. He’s not worried about you thinking that it feels like Dances with Wolves meets Ferngully, or that it is an allegory of oppression that has been done before. Where he gets you is in the execution of creating Pandora, a vast world that is familiar, but also completely fantastic. It is a world that feels every bit as big as its 10-foot tall inhabitants standing next to their 6-foot tall human counterparts. A world that is rich with color and wonder, enhanced by a depth of detail that can only be achieved through the work of a tyrannical, obsessive creative force like Cameron.

As well, Cameron understands pacing. His two and a half hour movie feels big, don’t get me wrong. But at no point does it feel bloated. It is the difference between an epic adventure story (in which something is always happening, even if it is as mundane as seeing Jake learn how to ride Pandora’s version of a horse) and a film dragged along by filler. Jake’s journey is not a simple one, and his learning of the Na’vi culture is something that is simple enough for the audience to engage, and complex enough for the audience to remain engaged. And it makes for a story that continues to move, even when there’s no action happening on screen. This succeeds because Cameron does the hard work to make it succeed.

Peter Suderman in Reason:

So despite its genuinely impressive technical innovations, Avatar isn’t much a movie: Instead, Cameron’s cooked up a derivative, overlong pastiche of anti-corporate clichés and quasi-mystical eco-nonsense. It’s not that the film’s politics make it bad, it’s that even if you agree, the nearly three-hour onslaught of simplistic moralizing leaves no room for interesting twists or ambiguity in the story or characters: corporations are bad, scientists are good, natives are pure, harmony with nature is the ultimate ideal — the only suspense comes from wondering what movie Cameron will rip off next. The go-to comparison so far is Dances With Wolves meets Ferngully, and that’s just about right. But Cameron rips himself off considerably as well: There are gruff marines are straight out of Aliens, stubborn science-types pulled from The Abyss, and a love-across-the-boundaries romance that echoes Titanic — only this time, it’s across species rather than ship decks.

Last week, Jeffrey Wells called Avatar “the most flamboyant, costliest, grandest left-liberal super-movie anyone’s ever seen,” and that’s true as far as it goes — but he forgot a word. It’s also one of the stupidest major movies in recently memory, blithely peddling a message that its entire production process actually undermines. That Avatar‘s melodramatic attacks on corporate interests and its defense of simple, natural living come packaged as one of the most expensive, and probably the most technically advanced, corporate films in history would seem to indicate that only quality bigger than the movie’s stupidity is its head-in-the-clouds hypocrisy. Cameron’s made a movie that he intends to be epic and awesome, but the only thing that’s awesome here is his total lack of self-awareness.

In Avatar, the official political interpretation of the Edenic moon Pandora is unobtainium repository, unobtanium being “a great whatsit” of a natural resource “that is an emblem of humanity’s greed and folly.” But Pandora itself, in its flourishing ecological balance, does not come with natural meaning built in. Paradoxically — and if Cameron is a Lockean, he is a most paradoxical Lockean — Pandora, which is to say nature, has no inherent meaning. It is simply a resource; the valuation which is to be mixed into it through the labor of interpretation must come from outside it.Science is caught, then, between the possibility of slavery to will (in the person of stereotypically gruff kill-it-or-pillage-it space Marines types) and the hope of serving some other prime mover in its own mastery of nature. For make no mistake: nature is there to be interpreted. The great liberal hope, dramatized potently by Cameron, is that science will freely enslave itself to whim without will, which is love. Love — transcendent love, species-hopping love, galaxy-crossing love, love between beings who fully inhabit their own bodies and beings who pilot their semi-inhabited avatars from a ship somewhere not very nearby in orbit. Love is the magic word, the only key that can rescue science from will and so achieve the inescapable, otherwise impossible task of interpreting the inescapable, otherwise meaningless natural world. No hypocrisy needed.

But oh what a strain on the credulity of the audience. And, if the producer of such poetry himself is knowledgeable enough — as was Rousseau — oh what a strain on him. Of course, adding an adequate theory of authority into the mix — that is, a theology — audiences and authors alike wind up in a rather different situation. But that is a story for another day, and you will have to go see Avatar yourself in order to fully contemplate what kind of God lurks at the Rousseauvian heart of the inventor of the Terminator.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat at NYT

Reihan Salam at Forbes

UPDATE #2: Annalee Newitz


UPDATE #3: Daniel Drezner

Tim Fernholz and David Weigel on Bloggingheads

Will Wilkinson and James Poulos on Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Poulos responds to Friedersdorf

UPDATE #5: John Podhoretz at The Weekly Standard

David Brooks at NYT

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #5: Noah Millman at The American Scene

UPDATE #6: Matt Feeney at TAS

UPDATE #7: Peter Suderman at TAS


Filed under Movies

Conservatives Curb Their Enthusiasm

Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters:

HBO’s hit series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has pushed the comedic envelope for many years, but what happened in Sunday’s episode was so disgraceful it’s already received comment from the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue.

The set-up is the show’s star and producer Larry David is taking some medication that is making him urinate quite forcefully.

It’s so powerful that while urinating in his assistant’s bathroom, he accidentally splashed some of it on a picture of Jesus Christ hanging on a nearby wall.

This prompted the following response from Donohue (video embedded below the fold h/t Big Hollywood):

At one point in the show, David goes to the bathroom in a Catholic home and splatters urine on a picture of Jesus; he doesn’t clean it off. Then a Catholic woman goes to the bathroom, sees the picture and concludes that Jesus is crying. She then summons her equally stupid mother and the two of them fall to their knees in prayer. When David and Jerry Seinfeld (playing himself) are asked if they ever experienced a miracle, David answers, “every erection is a miracle.” That’s what passes for creativity these days.

Was Larry David always this crude? Would he think it comedic if someone urinated on a picture of his mother? This might be fun to watch, but since HBO only likes to dump on Catholics (it was just a couple of weeks ago that Sarah Silverman insulted Catholics on “Real Time with Bill Maher“), and David is Jewish, we’ll never know.

Big Hollywood:

An email received today:

“First let me state that I’ve been a fan of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for many years and, even though Larry David is a liberal, I generally enjoy the writing and Larry’s antics. However, this time what I saw made me feel a little sick, extremely disappointed and a bit angry as well. I will never watch the show again as I have lost all respect and feelings of good will for Mr. David.

“Did you happen to see the episode to which I refer? Assuming you did not catch the episode, briefly stated: Larry pisses on the face of a painting of Jesus Christ, followed by mocking of Christians who believe the piss drop on the face of Jesus is a tear, thus they’ve witnessed a miracle. I wonder how many other viewers, Christian and non Christian, are similarly shocked and disgusted? Of course, the hypocrisy is that Mr. David would never exhibit such gross contempt for any other religion, especially Islam.

“Can you imagine the shit storm that would follow if David pissed on a painting of the prophet Muhammad? Of course, HBO, the complicit scum that they are, would not have allowed that to air.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO:

In response to Larry David’s crass use of a painting of Christ on Curb Your Enthusiasm this past weekend, Thor, the bestselling fiction writer, comments in his social media worlds: “All I want to know is, when is the Muslim episode?”

Thor, of course, is not asking for Mohammed to be similarly used in an upcoming episode. He’s simply pointing out that that would likely never be allowed to air. And Flemming Rose can tell you why.

Gateway Pundit

UPDATE: Mark Thompson at The League

The Anchoress


UPDATE #3: John Vecchione at The Website Formerly Known as New Majority, FrumForum


Filed under Religion, TV

Don’t Panic Yet, The Cute Pig Will Protect Us


Michael D. Shear and Rob Stein in WaPo:

President Obama has declared H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, clearing the way for his health chief to give hospitals wider leeway in how they handle a possible surge of new patients, administration officials said Saturday.

The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.

Obama said in the declaration that the “rapid increase in illness . . . may overburden health-care resources.” White House officials played down the dramatic language, saying the president’s action did not stem from a new assessment of the dangers the flu poses to the public.

Instead, officials said the action provides greater flexibility for hospitals that may face a surge of new patients as the virus sweeps through their communities. The declaration allows Sebelius to waive certain requirements under Medicaire and Medicaid, privacy rules and other regulations.

James Joyner:

Some are terming this “fear-mongering” and hysteria. And it’s true that this is neither “epidemic” nor an “emergency” in any ordinary senses of those words.  But these are the magic words the president has to invoke in order to bypass the bureaucratic rules preventing faster dissemination of the vaccine.   This is something I would like to see changed because the headlines will in fact create some hysterical reactions.  But it’s the system Obama has to work within for now.

Jules Crittenden:

I got the news yesterday on the car radio while driving back from the supermarket with my son. He and his sisters got their swine flu shots at the pediatrician’s office the other day. But he’s been studying the Black Death in history class. (So proud. In parent-teacher conference last week, the teacher related that she asked the class, “Who knows what the Black Death is?” and his hand shot up. “It’s a disease that killed half of Europe in the Middle Ages!” Their minds are like little sponges.) Anyway, just yesterday morning, he and I had been discussing again how the Black Death caused massive social turmoil, how all of us alive today are plague survivors. I assured him swine flu isn’t anything like the Black Death.

So, about this swine flu state of emergency, I told him:

“There are two pieces to this. One is that it makes sense, if you have a serious situation, to let the hospitals and various public health authorites bypass certain rule and regulations so they can treat more people, and limit the spread.

Then, there’s something called CYA. It means, “cover your behind.” It’s political. When you have a disaster looming, you need to look like you’re doing something. With this emergency declaration in late October, and vaccinations way behind where they wanted it to be, some people might say the horse has already bolted.

You know that saying? Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted? It means making a big show of closing the barn door … after the horse has bolted.”

I told him swine flu is like Hurricane Katrina. It’s coming, and it’s going to do what it’s going to do. Big force of nature. Might be bad, might not be so bad. Dunno yet. But when it’s over, everyone is going to want to know whether the president did everything he could to limit the damage. Deservedly or not, Bush got whacked over that. People are already starting to talk about swine flu as Obama’s Katrina.

And, given the drastic shortfall and delay in vaccine preparation and distribution, it isn’t looking good for him if this thing gets bad. Especially since, as the White House flack notes above, “The H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected.”

Although … I didn’t get into this with the kid … key words such as “federal government’s ambitious inoculation campaign” in that last Washington Post graph above are little clues that suggest there’s media scrutiny about political responsibility, and then there’s media scrutiny about political responsibility. And not all media scrutiny about political responsibility is equal.


So, I read in the Times that Obama’s eliminated some bureaucratic hurdles by declaring the swine flu outbreak a national emergency. His decision makes sense to me, because if flu activity currently rivals its annual winter peak, this season’s peak could tower over Everest like some dread Olympus Mons. By signing the order now, Obama frees hospitals to prepare for the worst by, for example, “issu[ing] waivers expediting health care facilities’ ability to transfer patients to other locations.” Sounds logical, right? However:

“The declaration allows hospitals to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for waivers from laws that in normal times are intended to protect patients’ privacy and to ensure that they are not discriminated against based on their source of payment for care, including Medicare, Medicaid and the states’ Children’s Health Insurance Program.

As a practical matter, officials said, the waiver could allow a hospital in danger of being overwhelmed with swine flu patients to remove them, and any emergency room visitors suspected of having the illness, to a location such a local armory to segregate such cases for treatment.”Do you know what this means? The government now has the power to segregate certain people (wink conservatives wink) on the basis of how they pay. Where do you think all those Cadillac owners are going to end up? In the hospitals, with doctors, in armories, because Obama knows he’ll need guns to keep conservatives away from theirs. The National Guard will be mobilized, then the “debate” over health-care reform will end as will America, as a permanent state of martial law will be declared on account of the continuing swine flu crisis.

This has been another edition of “Tomorrow’s Conservative Talking Points Today.” Gah.

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Filed under Public Health

Paging Orson Welles…


Patrick Courrielche at Big Hollywood:

On August 10th, the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and the Corporation for National and Community Service hosted a conference call with a handpicked arts group. This arts group played a key role in Obama’s arts effort during his election campaign, as declared by the organizers of the call, and many on the call played a role in the now famous Obama Hope poster.

Much of the talk on the conference call was a build up to what the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was specifically asking of this group. In the following segment, Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, clearly identifies this arts group as a pro-Obama collective and warns them of some “specific asks” that will be delivered later in the meeting.

  • “I just first of all want to thank everyone for being on the call and just a deep deep appreciation for all the work you all put into the campaign for the 2+ years we all worked together.”
  • “We won.”
  • “I’m actually in the White House and working towards furthering this agenda, this very aggressive agenda.”
  • “We’re going to come at you with some specific asks here.”
  • “I hope you guys are ready.”

Later in the call, “specific asks” were delivered by Yosi Sergant, then Communications Director of the National Endowment for the Arts. What were the “asks”? They were for this pro-Obama arts group to create art on several hotly debated political issues, including health care:

  • “I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment, you know, there’s four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service.”
  • “And then my ask would be to apply artistic, you know, your artistic creative communities utilities and bring them to the table.”
  • “Again, I’m really, really honored to be working with you; the National Endowment for the Arts is really honored.”
  • “You’re going to see a lot more of us in the next four and hopefully eight years.”

As someone that has been creating arts initiatives and marketing campaigns for over 14 years, I feel like I have a good sense as to how a pro-Obama arts group, when requested by the NEA to address politically contentious issues, could so easily turn very partisan.

Michelle Malkin

Ed Morrissey:

Does this break the law?  That’s questionable, but it certainly breaks the trust of the American taxpayer.  We do not fund the NEA for it to produce Leni Riefenstahl-type art.  If the NEA wants to go into policy activism, then it should become a private foundation with private funding, and Congress should cut it loose.

The NEA was bad enough when it was using tax dollars to fund such memorable art as placing a crucifix in a jar of urine.  Congress should completely defund the NEA at this juncture and tell the Obama administration to end its attempts to build propaganda machines in the executive branch.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

First, if Yosi Sergant was “reassigned” for sending out the email, how about Ms. Wicks? The NEA’s reassignment of Sergant was an acknowledgement that the effort by a government agency to enlist artists in support of a partisan agenda was improper. The NEA’s mild disciplinary action suggests that the call was the action of a relatively low-level employee who got carried away. But it wasn’t. It was sponsored by the White House and was led by the deputy to one of President Obama’s closest friends and advisers. This was no marginal, rogue operation. It was, rather, an element of Barack Obama’s political strategy.

Second, the operation may well have been illegal. Public funds are not supposed to be expended to support partisan projects. Beyond that, it is unconstitutional to grant or deny federal funds on the basis of the recipient’s political actions or opinions. National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley. The NEA is the single largest funder of the arts, and several participants in the August 10 conference call had recently received NEA checks. It would have been entirely reasonable for those on the phone call to conclude that future NEA funding could be influenced by their willingness to play ball with the Obama administration’s political agenda. Moreover, the Hatch Act limits the ability of federal employees to engage in partisan politics. Sergant’s sending of the email invitation to artists and arts groups, using his government email account, could be considered a bright line violation of the act, as could his apparent solicitation of political support from any arts group that had an application for funding pending before the NEA. Likewise, Ms. Wicks’ participation in the call would appear to be illegal if she was “on duty” and if the call was deemed political in nature.

It would take a thorough knowledge of the facts and more legal research than I’ve had time for to draw a conclusion as to whether the White House or NEA violated the law in connection with the artist outreach, but at a minimum an investigation is in order.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Perhaps Andrew Breitbart and friends shouldn’t be surprised when they find the White House staffers making “specific asks” of allegedly independent artists on a conference call organized by the allegedly nonpartisan National Endowment of the Arts. Obama’s appointee to head the endowment, Rocco Landesman, said about 20 days after that conference call, “If the president had wanted a timid NEA, he would have made a different choice.”

Perhaps this is what Obama meant when he called Landesman a “game-changer.”

The Anchoress

Kerry Picket at Washington Times

UPDATE: Andrew Klavan at City Journal

Scott Johnson at Powerline

Nick Gillespie at Reason

Andy McCarthy at NRO

And via Dave Noon, SEK

UPDATE #2: Sargent resigns


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Filed under Art, Political Figures